Brothers and Sisters, we have all heard the expression at one time or another: Familiarity breeds contempt. I’ ve learned over the years that more often than not, familiarity, rather than engendering ‘ contempt,’ has a way of lulling us into a complacent, ‘ take it for granted’ attitude. While this is only natural in so many areas of our life, it is lethal when it comes to the vitally important realities in our life. To take for granted the relationships and friendships that give our life their ultimate meaning can spell devastation in our emotional lives. Many a marriage that has sadly floundered and died can trace the seeds of this demise to a ‘ take it for granted’ attitude.
As devastating as this mind-set can be in our relationships with one another, it is lethal in our relationship to our faith. A lively faith that is transformational must be intentional. A faith that is built on the cheap grace of convenience rather than conviction is a faith that has no foundation, no substance, no permanence. Frankly, it is nothing more than a charade that is assumed to merely impress or manipulate others. In the end, rather than liberating us to live in the freedom of the sons and daughters of God, it becomes just one more lie that in the end can destroy our souls.
All of us have heard time and time again the Gospel from St. Matthew that the Church in her liturgy sets before us this morning – commonly known as the Beatitudes. In them, the Lord confronts the familiar pragmatic wisdom of every age with a counter-cultural and transformational challenge to live in a radically different way. In a culture and society that is so tempted to ignore the ‘ better angels’ of our nature, it might be so very easy to conclude that these are nothing more than the naïve babblings of some 1st century itinerant Jewish rabbi who in the end was a loser God as he hung upon the cross. Who in their right mind would call the poor in spirit, blessed? Or who would be so delusional as to believe that the meek, not the strong, would inherit the land or that mercy would trump revenge? Or who in their right mind would exalt peacemakers over the dictum, might makes right. And finally, who would ever think that insult and persecution are to be met with rejoicing and gladness rather than a vengeful, ‘ I’ ll get back at you attitude?” No, no, no....for those who merely wear religion as a thin veneer of respectability, these sayings of the master can be conveniently ignored.
Yet, my friends, for nearly 2000 years, these words of Jesus continue to stand as an indictment against those who would dare to rob Christianity of its heart and center. A heart and center that profoundly believes that no one is to be excluded from the merciful embrace of a loving God, whose borders know no limits. A heart and center of a living faith that through the Prophet Zephaniah commands us to ‘ seek justice...seek humility’ and in doing so, one will find their true self. A heart and center of a dynamic faith that dares to believe the words of St. Paul who proclaims, “... God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.”
And so, my friends, let us pray for the humility to let our worldly wisdom surrender to the ageless wisdom of Jesus who remains the perfecter of our faith. And in doing so, find in him our happiness and joy now and in the world to come.